Implementing an account-based ticketing system: what key challenges should you prepare for?

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Our research of eight transport authorities, showed that several common challenges are emerging amongst cities implementing account-based ticketing systems.  These challenges can be grouped into five key areas:

  1. It takes a long time

The first most common challenge was time. Seven out of the eight cities interviewed, mentioned that the time to develop and get the system up and running was longer than anticipated. No one did this in less than three years. For some, it was because they were early adopters (Utah, Chicago, London); for others, the integration was just difficult, and hindered by legacy systems and unforeseen factors.

  1. Latency in processing times

The second common challenge was transaction processing time. This was raised in relation to inspection checks. In a card-based model information is written back to the card to check for travel entitlement. However in an ABT model, if you aren’t writing back to the card (e.g. if you are using EMV), you need to have a solution for revenue inspection – either online or off-line. The key message that we received from the research was that most bus networks are run on 3G, which is simply not fast enough for online processing. One of the eight cities interviewed told us that certain transactions had up to 700ms total transaction time, including the real-time look-up which was too slow to be viable for an inspection check.

  1. Negotiating the ‘first tap risk’

The third insight is related to financial risk, and this was raised as a particular concern for those with an EMV ticketing component to their system. The need to negotiate with banks and schemes as to who takes the risk of the first tap, and for the amount involved, is a new experience for most public transport authorities. There is also the risk that once you go down this path there is no turning back.

  1. The cost of migrating a legacy system

Six out of the eight cities we talked to had legacy card-based systems that had reached end of life, while two had moved directly from cash and paper tickets to an ABT model. Cities with card-based systems to maintain, found it complex and costly to migrate to the new model. Some chose to run both systems in parallel for a time, effectively doubling the cost of fare collection rather than reducing it. Others are making the move to upgrade all devices to be EMV compliant, another significant cost.

  1. Change in customer behaviour

The last shared insight across all jurisdictions is that while the ABT model offers a multitude of advantages for the customer, the subtle changes in behaviour should not be underestimated and need to be communicated to customers clearly at the outset. Sometimes referred to as “muscle memory”, customers with years of experience using a smartcard have expectations about how anything new will work, unless they are told otherwise. Two common customer complaints include no longer being able to see the balance when they present the card to the reader, as well as ‘card clash’ for EMV compliant devices.  Both London and Chicago put significant effort into communicating ‘card clash’ to customers.

As with all innovations, insights provided by early adopters, into the challenges faced provides a platform for planning future ABT deployments.

As more cities move to implement this new model, we are able to gather insight into their key drivers and challenges and apply these findings industry-wide in development  and deployment of ABT systems.

To learn more about our research, download the whitepaper or register for our next webinar.


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